Last Monday afternoon we arrived in an apartment with plenty of furniture and little else. Stricken almost into homesickness by the bareness of it, I set out to colonise the place by pulling out what little I had of home. I was pleased to find the perfect spot all set for my Lares and Penates—usually the shelves are too big for them, but this picture rail is just right.
Both of these wee beasties have stories that go back some years.
During my senior year of high school, my writing teacher suggested, strongly, that I apply for a scholarship to spend a year in Germany, living with a Germany family and attending high school. Long story short, I applied and went. (My mother told me later that she let me apply thinking it would never happen. So does Time make fools of us all.) Being the best mom ever, she packed me a time-release care package. One little present a day that I could open during the orientation and in my new country, and think of people who loved me at home.
One of the gifts was a little metal frog no larger than my thumbnail. A good-luck frog, it was called; according to popular belief (the internet and a number of casually-researched books I’ve read over the years), many asian cultures believe frogs to be lucky, not least because of their fertility in laying so many eggs.
The year passed, as years so often do, with many upturns and downturns. At the end, a week before I left, my German host sister flew off for an exchange year of her own in Thailand. As we said good-bye at the airport, I pressed the frog into her hand and told her its story.
A few years later, when I returned to Germany during college, I heard that she didn’t have the frog any more. She had passed it on to her friend—and mine—when the latter left for a volunteer program abroad.* I don’t even know who has the frog anymore. I don’t think it really matters.
A few years after that, my Mum moved house. I was wandering through a shop in Boston on my lunch hour when I ran across—what else?—a tray of tiny good-luck frogs. Penates is the twin of the frog I gave Mum to bring happiness in her new place.
As for Lares, he came from a shop in Boothbay Harbor, ME. Each year before school started, my family would go down to Boothbay: go walk on a nearby beach, poke through the shops. We would get dinner at a pizza place on the dock, and then wind up the night with a good round of mini golf. Lares was the teensiest little parcel in my care package when I went away to college and usually hangs by his tail on my earring rack to stop me losing any earrings. (Or losing Lares.)
* Possibly in Turkey, or somewhere nearby